Sunday 28 July 2013

Pattern Recognition: The Fantasy Behind Veiled Musicians

My Pattern Recognition column for Electronic Beats reaches its third volume, with a piece on the aesthetics of anonymous or reclusive - 'veiled' - musicians (click here to read it) - kicking off with the Burial is Four Tet farce, then going on to look at Jandek and a mysterious and amazing Soundcloud account, that of Pepsi 7up.

There has long been something attractive, tantalising and romantic about an anonymous artist, especially one who chooses to be... Take away the name, the face and the life story, and a big, mysterious hole appears, an empty space that people can fill up with their fantasies.

The most telling aspects of Jandek’s initial reception, however, were the assumptions that were made about what sort of a person he was and how and why the music was made... The suggestion that the emotion in Jandek’s music was merely performed or inferred rather than ‘real’ was barely made.
It’s worth noting that if Jandek really is Sterling Smith, he was born in 1944, making him part of the same pioneering generation as Frank Zappa, Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Charlemagne Palestine, David Lynch, Lou Reed, John Cale, Neil Young, Jefferson Airplane, The Residents and The Beatles.

It’s very difficult to describe just how surprising and captivating Pepsi 7up’s “Over The Rainbow” is. A choir of synthesized voices, a voice probably designed to be female leading with the fragmentary melody and lyrics, accompanied by a number of male voices, the glockenspiel and another synthesiser. The voices are so startling familiar in some ways and so estranged in others—you can almost feel mouths pronouncing consonants, but the beginning and endings of the sounds and the ways they change over time are not human... It’s like that hit of happiness you get from recognizing a loved one occurring even though—or maybe because—their skin is shimmering aquamarine and the lower half of their face is barely recognizable. It’s like figuring out you have a crush on a being from another dimension.

Essay: Meanwhile in the UK's dance underground...

My latest Dummy essay returns to the UK dance underground (click here to read it) looking for fresh new developments since my piece on Texas last autumn. It's been described as exhaustive and encyclopedic, but it's not quite supposed to be a run-down of everything that's happening - only the weird new stuff and less famous labels that are beginning to shine. Featuring Sophie, Rustie, Hudson Mohawke, Numbers, Redinho, Lockah, Donky Pitch, Hyetal, E.m.m.a., Night Slugs, Jam City, Helix, Hysterics, L-Vis 1990, Keysound, Visionist, Wen, Beneath, the Grime 2.0 compilation.
Bipp might be the first underground dance hit to have evolved an endoskeleton. There are almost no perpendicular lines in time or timbre space – sounds curve upward, glide downward, slide off another or withdraw swiftly into the membranes they came from, leaving silence.
Since 2008 there have been several different sub-scenes and sub-sounds that never really got called anything more fitting than “post-dubstep”. One descriptive term that has been coming up a lot in music writing since 2008 is “neon”. It seems to describe many different kinds of a more playful, expressive, synth-led sound that has variously tied together strands of grime, 8-bit, skweee, aquacrunk and synthed 80s R&B and disco-funk (what’s sometimes called “boogie” these days), and often placing this on a rhythmic bed of halfstep, UK funky, or more recently footwork or the “trap” production style.
An offshoot of the magical neon sound is the highly modern, streamlined, robotic sound developed by Jam City on ‘Classical Curves’, released by Night Slugs a year ago. It brings in a more hardcore sound probably partly influenced by the Night Slugs family’s recent interest in ballroom. Now, though, Jam City is not the only producer to be exploring this territory. This year on Night Slugs’s recent ‘Club Constructions’ initiative, Helix (from Georgia in the US), and Hysterics (a new alias for star-of-2010 UK producer Girl Unit), look to similarly lean, repetitious, unusual, almost industrially hard, heavily syncopated (even in the bass) grooves, now practically the antithesis of the fairy-dust-and-joy Scottish sound.
In March, this Keysound salvo was topped off by, as Angus Finlayson noted, a full-on “statement of intent”: the manifesto-like 14-track compilation tellingly called ‘This Is How We Roll’. An essential listen in every sense, it opens with the provocatively titled New Wave, a track by Visionist, Beneath and Wen together that crystallises this dread, shimmering, rolling, heavily syncopated sound both musically and in its vocal sample, which announces “the new wave, coming through.”
By drawing inspiration from UK funky, footwork and UK garage and driving their syncopations so far from house’s 4/4, could the UK dance underground have converged on a new rhythmic template, a new beat pattern, for the first time in several years? ... it’s interesting times for the UK scene once again